Speaker: Rev. Doug de Graffenried
Scripture Passage: John 18:33-37
Our lesson this morning comes from the 18th chapter of John’s gospel, the 33rd through the 37 verses.
Then Pilot entered his headquarters again and summoned Jesus and asked him; Are you the king of the Jews? Jesus answered. Do you ask this on your own or did others tell you about me? Pilot replied, I’m not a Jew, Am I? your own nation and chief priest who handed you over to me? What have you done? Jesus answered, my kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here. Pilot Asked him, so you are a king. Jesus answered. You say that I’m a king. For this, I was born, and for this I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.
Friends, is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Larry called me on a Wednesday or Thursday and said, I’ll be in church Sunday. I want to have communion. Will you be patient while I come down to the altar? I said, of course. Larry had been diagnosed earlier that year with a aggressive case of ALS. He had gone from being the self-sufficient, accomplished engineer and outdoorsman to being fairly well confined to a wheelchair with a devastating, rapidly developing disease. I saw them wheel Larry into the church. they set him close to the back row and there was time for communion to be served. And I saw his wife and a couple of ushers help lift him to his feet. And I watched as several of them walked him down the aisle and stood him in front of me. That church, like this one, serves communion by intinction, by taking the bread and dipping it in the chalice. But Larry’s hands didn’t work anymore and his arms were just hanging by his side. So, the only time I’ve ever done it in my ministry. I took the bread. I dipped it in the chalice. And I’m pleased it in Larry’s mouth. It was the last time we would ever see Larry and Church. What would cause a dignified, Strong individual to come down the aisle of a church and in such a humble, obviously helpless way, Want to receive and receive communion? Or take Marie. Marie had just retired. She had worked for 40 years. She was looking forward to going to the farm just to hang out and be a mom and a grand mom. And two weeks after she retired, she’d been having some trouble with her shoulder. She went to the Doctor. Doctor did all the tests and found that she had a most aggressive form of lung cancer. And she decided that rather than be treated for it, she was just going to let the disease take its course. which meant she probably wouldn’t make it very much past New Year’s. I went to see Marie in the old Shumpert hospital, and as I walked to the corner, I could hear Marie in the bed, singing. singing some of the great hymns of the church. What did Marie have to sing about?
Archie was a physician. Archie had attended most of the births in that town. He was. Known as being an 89-year-old man, the Steel ran three or four miles a day. So when you went to see Archie as a patient, he wasn’t very comforting. When you said you had aches and pains, He just kind of told you, you need to get over yourself and get on with it. Archie had four children. His daughter, Allison, had passed away in 2008, of brain cancer. And we had been praying for his daughter, Cathy, for several years. And in 2012, Cathy died. I went to visit our chief in faith, and we talked about the funeral, and Archie looked at me and said, I’m going to preach your sermon. I’ll say, well, Archie, your good Roman Catholic will just let anybody up in the Methodist Church, are you sure you want to do this? And Archie said. I’m sure I want to do this. and Archie got up the day of the funeral and preach the most amazing funeral sermon I’ve ever heard. He talked about his daughter’s life, he talked about her struggle, but he talked about her eternal life and Christ, how that one day He would see her again, and he knew that Christ had made her whole. How can a man who’s lost two of his children, who is a physician? How can he stand in the pulpit and boldly proclaim Jesus Christ?
In Vietnam. A young American had been assigned as a chaplain to an infantry platoon, and as they were walking through the rice paddies, he was walking pretty close to a South Vietnamese soldier and the soldier stepped on a landmine, and it blew off both of his legs right at the hips. The young chaplain rushed to the soldier’s side and grabbed him up in his arms, and he was holding him in the middle of this rice paddy, looking at him as his life was ebbing out of him into the rice paddy. What do you say? How can you offer a word of comfort? They didn’t speak each other’s language. one spoke English and the other one a form of French. And suddenly it occurred to the chaplain what he was going to say, he remembered words from the old Latin mass, and he looked into the ashen face of this dying soldier And he said, Sir, some corrida which is Latin for lift up your hearts. And there was the last fleeting moment of recognition, and a smile came across the South Vietnamese soldier’s face, and he responded back with the proper liturgical response. Regem habemus. We have a King. What could allow Larry to stand in front of a church being held by ushers in his wife to receive communion from the hands of a minister? What allowed Marie to sing? What allowed Archie to preach? What allowed this South Vietnamese soldier to die in peace was the notion and the understanding and the faith that they had a king. the king of Kings and the Lord of Lords. King Jesus. We have a king, and in the liturgical world, this is Christ the King Sunday. Before we start advent, that’s next Sunday. We take this deep breath, and we acknowledge that Jesus is indeed the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Pope Pius the 11th instituted this in 1925. Europe was still ravaged by the pain and torment of World War one. The Treaty of Versailles had already put the seeds of World War two in place. Communism was rampant, social discourse had broken down. fascism, and all the isms you can think of had wiped out the middle. Everybody was out on the periphery Throwing rocks and stones and bullets and invectives at each other. Pope Pius, the 11th, noted in his encyclical when he instituted Christ the King Sunday. That when individuals and states rebelled against Christ’s authority, The results are discord bitter in the ties between nations, insatiable greed, unity, and stability of families undermined, society, in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin. Sound familiar?
This Sunday, we stop and acknowledge that we have a king. We have a king. Now, being a follower of King Jesus is understanding that the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, Majesty on High became subject to flesh. he became subject to his hunger and cold death and desperation. We see him lying in a feed trough for a donkey. We see him working in the dust of the carpenter shop and dying a derelicts death for the sins of the world. We see him coming down to us. but we understand that the gospel he gave us, this good news that’s found in the word, is not about following advice. It’s about being called to follow a king. not just somebody with power and authority, to tell you what needs to be done, but somebody with the power and authority to do what needs to be done in your life and in my life.
We have a king who has called us to daring living. To daring living. to bold quest into the adventure of following him. If you’re if you’re a hunter of any kind, you know why that the early forefathers of our country wanted the national symbol to be the wild turkey, And not the bald eagle. As beautiful as they are, Eagles are scavengers. And the founding fathers were men who were bent on taming the wilderness. And as they were going out into the wilderness, they observed the eagles. But they were scavengers and that didn’t impress them. They were impressed, though, with the wild turkey. And if you’ve ever hunted them, you’re probably impressed with them, too. They are unbelievably fast creatures capable of running 25 miles an hour and flying up to 55 miles an hour. They’re also smart and constantly on the alert. Hunters like to say that a deer thinks every hunter is a tree stump, but a turkey thinks every tree stump is a hunter. They can be hard to find, hard to kill, and then just to be ornery, Turkeys make themselves hard to clean after they’re dead. There are as many as 5,500 feathers on an adult turkey. That’s the wild turkey, though.
the domesticated turkey is another story. they’re idiots. Perhaps the dumbest animal alive, domesticated turkeys will eat themselves to death until somebody stops them. If thunder frightens them, they will often bunch up in a corner with one another in their pan and suffocate each other. Interesting in it. Wild turkeys are amazing. Domesticated turkeys are so stupid they have to have somebody to save them from accidentally killing themselves and a dozen different ways.
But here’s the rub. Most of us as followers of Christ. Have become tragically domesticated. Words like adventure and exploit and quest no longer apply to us. We become soft and whiny and board. When Jesus said, if you want to be my disciple, you got to take up your cross and follow me. What do you think he’s talking about? He’s inviting you to a quest. He’s inviting you to adventure. He’s inviting you to live a dangerous life way out on that limb of faith. And how do we do that in the church today? We count the cost. Or we create a committee to count the cost for us because we’re not supposed to be dangerous. What do you think it means? If you’re going to seek to save your life, you’ll lose it, but those who lose their life, for my sake, will find it. You think Jesus is inviting you to comfort? Do you think Jesus is inviting you to security, which, by the way, is a myth? Security does not exist in nature. Human beings cannot be completely and totally secure. And so, what we do is we spend our lives trying to avoid danger, which in fact becomes dangerous for us.
We’ve been called to follow the king. We’ve been called to follow the king in building the Kingdom of God. And we’ve been called to follow the king in building the Kingdom of God, even if it means it costs us our lives. That’s not safe. But that’s not the end of it. The King has also given us the ability to follow him. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has made this impossible task suddenly possible. The Holy Spirit lives and dwells in you.
I want to go back to the Old Testament times. I think Old Testament times would be cool. I want to go back, and I want to watch King David pick up those stones and do the slaying and wipe out Goliath. I think that’d be neat, man. Can you imagine the voracity and the tennacity it took? Then I hear David whispering down to eternity. Hey, Christian, you’ve got the Holy Spirit living in you. What? It’s what is it like to have God with you every moment of every day? What is it like to know his presence and power and direction? How have you lived with the Holy Spirit in you? What giants have you overcome with God’s spirit presently in you? Man, I’d like to talk to Elijah. I would like to know what it would be like to call down fire from heaven. Call on fire from heaven. And have all those priests. The bail wiped out. I’d just like somebody to send me a zippo lighter and some gulf light to get some Methodist fired up. That’s all I want. What’s that like, Elijah and Elijah aspect? What’s it like to walk every day with the Holy Spirit living in you, the very breath of God inside of you? What’s it like knowing that you don’t have to be depressed? You don’t have to be despondent; you don’t have to be lost because you have this power within you? Are you using the power that you have? Or let’s ask, Moses; Moses, what was it like to stand in front of the burning bush? What was it like to know that God was leading you by a cloud during the daytime, a pillar of fire at night? What was it like to be up on the mountain? and Moses Asks us from heaven; What’s it like having the Holy Spirit live in you? That that power which created the world, that power which raised Christ from the dead is living in you? What’s that like? How are you Christians living with that kind of power? You see, we love the cold. I can do all things, and that’s where we stop it, because that’s self-sufficient. I can do all things. Except that’s not what the Bible says. It says I can do all things through Christ Jesus. I can’t do all things. But Christ can. And Christ living in me can. Oh, we like to cheat right there.
I know you’re going to find this hard to believe, but there was a time in my life I used to go to the gym. Used to lift them weights, man. yeah, lifted them weights. liked to work on my triceps, my triceps basically have disappeared now. I tried it on the cruise last week. I put my arms out like this to do the titanic thing and these little flaps of skin. They started vibrating. Pretty bad. It’s just ugly. But I get the pull downs, pull them down, going to build those triceps up, doing about 40 lbs., you know, and the old machines, you know, to put pins under the weight room, I’d finished my workout. Look, see if anybody’s looking at circle around back behind a machine, pull the pin out at 40. Put the pin down, it’s 70, so somebody think, Oh, that man did a real workout on those things. He’s a humble man. Look at them Pitiful triceps. But that’s us. Fake it until we make it. Sorry. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. greater is he that is in me than he is in the world. It’s not Doug, it’s not you. It’s Christ working in us through us. We have a king who has called us to great adventure and dynamic living, who’s given us the ability to follow. We have a king. What did you hear, how Jesus is dealing with Pilate? He never answered the question. Are you the king of the Jews pilot asking Jesus never answered the question, he posed it back to pilot in such a way that pilot would have to Answer that question for himself?
So, I ask you. Do you have a king? Not in theory. Not in church. In your heart. Do you know, Christ here? do you walk with Christ every day? Do you know the power that is available through his presence? Do you know the power that sustained Larry and Marie and Archie and that Vietnamese soldier? Do you have that king? When I get to this point, the only way to wrap up, the only way is to remind us all of what Paul said in Romans. What, then, are we to say about these things if God is for us? Who can be against us, and we have needed God for us in these past months? I was reading an article this week about a mom with her daughter, and the daughter looked at her mom and said, Mom, it’s been a tough year handling COVID 19, hasn’t it mommy and mom said, yes, dear. It’s been really tough. And the little girl said, well, mommy, what did you do during the first 18 COVID? Hmm. Sort of feels that way, doesn’t it? If God is for us, who’s against us, who will separate us from the love of Christ? will hardship or distress or persecution or famine or peril or nakedness or sword? No, and all these things, we are more than conquerors to the one who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation Will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ, Jesus, our Lord. Brothers and sisters on this Sunday, the church says. We have a king. Would you stand and pray with me?
We pray to God that through the presence and power of your Holy Spirit, you would help us to walk with the king. And to follow the king. Lead on, Oh, King Eternal. Your church is following. Amen.